Mexico’s Bicentennial celebration starts the night of September 15, 2010 — 200 years of independence party
SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico- I was looking at a package of rather large fake mustaches displayed on a rack full of paraphernalia for Mexico’s bicentennial celebration, which is set to begin tomorrow night. I understood why Mexicans would want to buy flags, green, red, and white t-shirts, similarly colored hair clips, and posters and signs declaring, “Viva Mexico,” with pictures of a bald priest on them, but I could not understand what these oversized fake mustaches had to do with Mexican independence.
I asked the kid running the rack: “What are these fake mustaches for and what do they have to do with the bicentennial?”
He sort of laughed at me: “It is tradition for us to wear mustaches and sombreros on Independence Day.”
Fair enough. I had never been to a country’s bicentennial before, and there are only a small handful of countries on the planet that have been around this long, so if Mexicans want to wear large, fake mustaches on the 200 year birthday of their country, well, that is fine with me.
Leading up to Independence, 200 years later we have a bicentennial
A priest, a rebellious military general, and a country full of peasants seeking retribution all gathered together. Sounds like revolution to me. This was in 1810, 200 years ago the independence movement which eventually lead to separation from Spain began. This year Mexico will celebrate its bicentennial.
The bicentennial celebration will officially start at midnight of September 15th with something called, El Grito — “the yell.” Each year on midnight of Independence Day Eve the president of Mexico gets on national TV and yells, “Mexicanos, viva Mexico!,” then screams “AAAYYYYYEEEEE!” as the rest of country follows suit. This yell, which has its roots on the first day of the independence movement, is now the climax of festivities for the holiday known aptly as “El Grito,” which is the night before Mexico’s day of independence on September 16th.
This year is the 200th year celebration of this yell, and the president of Mexico is going to Dolores, the city where the call to revolution was first raised, to do his part in the festivities.
But 2010 is not only the year of the Mexican bicentennial, but is also the 100th year anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution. In Mexico, 2010 has been called, “Año de la Patria,” or “Year of the Nation.” The entire year is marked for celebrations, which greatly increase in grandeur on the night of September 15th — tomorrow night.
Preparations for Mexico’s Bicentennial Celebration
The streets here in Mexico are fully decked out in green, white, and red, Mexican flags are being sold everywhere, “Viva Mexico” is written on every restaurant window, the bars are advertising drink deals for “The great Mexican party.” Clothing stores even have their best Mexican flag colored dresses outlandishly displayed with tinsel and pomp in their windows. There is loud music emitting from the park, there are army boys with M-16s around their backs playing drums in the streets, there are other army boys with M-16s protecting them as they do so. Mexico is ready for its bicentennial.
Perhaps this will be the biggest party in 200 years, the epi-center of which is Mexico City. Domestic Mexican airlines have been running promotions to bring as many people into the Federal District as possible for the festivities, artists have painted this and that, some incredibly large steel tower be-speckled in quartz has been erected, huge Mexican flags are flying from everywhere.
I have been gauging the anticipation of Mexicans here in San Cristobal in the days leading up to the 200 year anniversary of their country. “Are you excited for the bicentennial?” I ask for lack of a better way to start the conversation. They sort of look at me funny — I guess so. I then ask what they are going to do, they tell me that they are going to the park to yell at midnight with everybody else, or they are getting drunk somewhere, fighting roosters, celebrating somehow.
I suppose I will do the same. I have already started. In the days leading up to Independence Day, there is a lot of music, a lot of bands playing in the park. I dance with my baby Petra, she really knows how to live — she loves dancing to music, it is that simple: when she hears music, she dances. I find that I think too much about my projects, what I am going to do, when strolling through crowds when the music is playing, I am thinking about the history of Mexico’s bicentennial. Baby Petra just dances to the music, she knows how to celebrate, she doesn’t ask any questions.
A brief history of Mexican independence
The Mexican independence movement was, reputedly, suppose to have been a gentlemanly affair, a swift political maneuver. The revolutionary plotters thought that they could just convince the military generals to side with them, remove the power base of the Spanish, and then stroll into government. They thought wrong: the Mexican war of independence ended up being a 12 year blood bath, that only ended when both sides, ironically, joined forces on the battle field to fight against a newly formed Spanish government.
The story goes:
Fueled by 300 years of a ridged class system in which native Spaniards, called the Gachupines, were given a prime position in governance and commerce, the underclasses of Mexico felt the urge to revolt. New leaders began rearing their heads, a new power structure was clutching at the surface. A shift in government in Spain sparked a new revolutionary movement in Mexico — then called “new Spain.” Successive revolutionary movements to oust the Spaniards rose and fell unsuccessfully, the Gachupines seldom ruled without opposition, but in September of 1810, a movement arose that eventually severed the rule of Spain in Mexico.
The catholic priest, Miguel Hidalgo — a real bad ass who enjoyed gambling, fornicating, professed a disbelief in hell, and encouraged his parishioners to break Spanish law and grow vines and olives — has gone down in history as being one of the main conspirators who jump started the revolutionary movement. He has been called the father of Mexican independence, he has also been called the illegitimate father of many Mexicans as well. His severed head ended up on public display in Guanajuato.
To start the revolution, Hidalgo at first met with generals in secret, putting together a group of able revolutionaries equipped to fluidly move the Spanish out of power. At the initial stages, the Mexican proletariat was to have little to do with the independence movement, they were not even to be notified as to when to show up.
But on September 13th, 1810, Hidalgo got word that he was to be arrested, his plot to coerce the military into switching sides was found out, it looked like the end. He rode to Dolores and made a decision: he would include the common people of Mexico in the independence movement. He ordered the arrest of the town’s native Spaniards, razed the jails and freed the political prisoners. He then rang his church bell in the middle of the night, gathering his congregation of the Mexican lower classes. He then spoke the words that provided the impetus for the masses of Mexico to pick up their guns, pick axes, pitch forks, and hoes to wipe out the native Spanish Gachupines. This speech became known as “El Grito de Dolores,” and 200 years later it is still recited on the eve of Mexico’s Independence Day.
My children: a new dispensation comes to us today. Will you receive it? Will you free yourselves? Will you recover the lands stolen by three hundred years ago from your forefathers by the hated Spaniards? We must act at once… Will you defend your religion and your rights as true patriots? Long live our Lady of Guadalupe! Death to bad government! Death to the gachupines!
The story of Mexican independence then bifurcates from here. Hidalgo’s co-conspirator, Ignacio de Allende — a noble Bosque — separated from Hidalgo’s militia and began his own revolutionary movement. on September 28th, Hidalgo’s troops attacked a granary in Guanajuato where the town’s Spanish and Criollo population was in hiding. The Spaniards and many pro-independence Criollos were indiscriminately slaughtered, after which, Allende — who was also noble Criollo — refused to have anything to do with Hidalgo.
Both militias were then wiped out easily by the Spanish. Ironically, the revolutionary rivals, Hidalgo and Allende, had their severed heads put on display right next to each other in Guanajuato.
But the death of two of the main leaders of Mexican independence did not end the movement. José María Morelos took control and fought the Spaniards for a few years, occupying Acapulco and Oaxaca, and leading to Spanish legislation which acknowledged the independence movement. Eventually, Morelos was also tried and executed.
From here, the independence movement was headed by various guerilla bands, and eventually ground down to a stand still.
In a great interplay of irony, a liberal political upheaval in Spain actually lead the Mexican conservatives to combine forces with the frayed ends of the independence movement, which they had been fighting for the past decade, to revigurate the movement and severe their ties from Spain. The Mexican conservatives viewed the coup in the motherland as a threat to their privilege, and they, too, now considered proclaiming independence. In what could amount to one of the greatest battlefield swaps of all time, the conservative Mexican general — who was actually sent on what was suppose to be the final mission to fully wipe out the revolutionaries in Oaxaca — ended up sitting down with the revolutionary leaders to discuss joining forces against Spain.
After an initial clash with Guerrero’s forces, Iturbide switched allegiances and invited the rebel leader to meet and discuss principles of a renewed independence struggle. . . Iturbide’s army was joined by rebel forces from all over Mexico. When the rebels’ victory became certain, the viceroy resigned. On August 24, 1821, representatives of the Spanish crown and Iturbide signed the Treaty of Córdoba, which recognized Mexican independence under the terms of the Plan of Iguala. On September 27 the Army of the Three Guarantees entered Mexico City and the following day Iturbide proclaimed the independence of the Mexican Empire, as New Spain was to be henceforth called. –Mexican war of Independence
In the end, Mexican independence from Spain was only achieved when the revolutionary movement joined forces with the defenders of the status-quo of New Spain. Ironically, a liberal government in Spain turned a liberal revolutionary movement in New Spain into a conservative one, and the ties to the colonial power were soon severed, and Mexico rose as an independent country.
This is an askance history of revolution, for sure, but governments are rarely toppled in anything resembling an ordered fashion — alliances are made, alliances are broken, people beheaded, revolutions are perhaps the ultimate experience in human drama. When I began reading about the Mexican independence movement, I would read stories like, “Hidalgo delivered his Grito, the peasants revolted, and the rest is history.” This wasn’t the case, as Mexican independence was only won when both sides of the struggle in Mexico were given a reason to stop fighting each other and unite against a common enemy, and, in the end, declare themselves an independent nation.
I now sit here in Mexico, one day before the bicentennial of “El Grito,” a celebration on the eve of the anniversary of Hidalgo’s first revolutionary actions, and I await a massive party — replete with cock fights, beer, dancing, and, of course, yelling.
Mexico is 200 years old, there are only a few dozen countries in the world that can also make this claim.